1. All Kavanaugh, all the time
As MidtermMatters goes live today, the Senate confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to sit on the US Supreme Court is as supercharged as you can get – and his prospects will change multiple times before this issue is resolved.
On the politics, this is what you need to keep in mind: (1) The highest political objective for Trump and the Republicans is to get Kavanaugh confirmed, and they will move to finalise it when they are certain they have the 51 votes required. That is the only thing that matters to Mitch McConnell – and he will engineer the outcome when he knows he will not lose more than one Republican on the vote to confirm.
(2) The highest political objective for the Democrats is to delay the vote until after the midterms on November 6. If they can force the vote to be held over, and they win control of the Senate – huge, perhaps impossible "ifs" – they could stop Trump from gaining Kavanaugh or any further justices. And the only way to do that is for the hearing with Professor Christine Blasey Ford to result in two or more Republicans saying that they cannot vote for Kavanaugh.
The political calculus for the midterms is exceptionally complex. If Ford is harassed in the hearings and Kavanaugh gets confirmed, the backlash could doom Republicans in close House and Senate races. If Kavanaugh fails, Trump’s base could feel that he has failed to deliver on his promise of changing the balance on the Supreme Court. If Kavanaugh prevails smartly, the Trump base can vote to reward Trump’s achievement – and Democrats could become deflated.
The main game here is control of both the Supreme Court and the Congress.
2. The president of the United States is president of the UN Security Council
This week in New York, Trump presides over the Security Council (SC), as it is the United States in the chair by rotation among the SC members. By his words, Trump can set the agenda he wants the world to understand: America First, an end to multilateral trade deals, the end of the United States bearing a major share of the burden to keep the United Nation’s operations robust. It is a platform to attack Iran and the Palestinian leadership, and to re-define America’s longterm stake in the United Nations. Trump can take his fight on trade right into the council chambers and take credit for diplomacy with North Korea – in contrast to a year ago when he lacerated “Rocket Man”. This week’s new reality TV show is Trump addressing the world.
3. The 45th and the 25th
For the third time in two weeks, there are reports that senior officials in and around the White House discussed the ways and means by which to invoke the 25th Amendment – which permits the removal of a president from office if he or she is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office”. It almost does not matter the degree of veracity to these reports by “Anonymous” and Bob Woodward, and now via discussions said to have been held by Rod Rosenstein, the assistant attorney general overseeing Mueller.
These reports certainly have one effect: to make Trump more defensive, protective, shielded – and believing that high officials in the administration are out to get him. After the midterms, we will assess prospects for a wholesale housecleaning on Pennsylvania Avenue.
4. FEAR: Inside the Trump White House
My review of Woodward’s book for the Fairfax Media was published Friday. One par from my discussion that captures the president: “Trump hates weakness and to be seen as weak. Hates to apologise. Twitter is, "Who I am… it's the reason that I'm successful". Trump does not listen. He does not read. He is impossible to brief. He has no extended focus. He is immovable on almost all issues. The language in the White House is disgusting, wholly unworthy of the office; the Trump West Wing's screenplay is by Puzo and Mamet”.
5. This week’s cautionary tale
Last week’s summitry engineered by President Moon and Chairman Kim Jong Un was very impressive. But it did not advance at all the removal of Kim’s nuclear arsenal, per extensive expert analysis. That did not stop Trump painting blue skies on Twitter, quoting Fox News: “North Korea re-commits to denuclearisation – we’ve come a long way.” Trump still faces a moment of truth on whether Kim will dismantle his nuclear weapons and missiles. Whatever Trump is doing with North Korea, it is time to update Ronald Reagan’s famous dictum on doing business with Mikhail Gorbachev of the USSR. “Trust but verify,” Reagan said, as he sealed arms control agreements. For Kim, it is time for, “Verify, and then trust”. That will be the art of this deal.